The Mighty Magnificat

Russell Spotts | Dec. 10, 2021

Until sitting down to write this, I didn't understand that this Magnificat is the oldest Advent hymn and that it has a revolutionary tone of casting down thrones and lifting the humble. Somehow the talk of casting down the mighty and lifting the humble gets left out of Mary’s story in Advent. I hope my white, middle-class, male, privileged self does honor to this brown woman's song of God's Justice. Because frankly, I come from a group that has all the advantages in the world and is likely in need of some casting down. My status in this culture is much closer to the top of the pile than the bottom. Mary's status in her culture was a hair higher than a donkey...

...until she was pregnant out of wedlock.

Then patriarchy lowers her to dirt.

It is from this unmerited favor of God, favor that humbled her further in her context, that she sings out this song:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

~Luke 1:46-56

Read her song again and dwell in it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (famed early 20th-century pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident) preached on the Magnificat and I find his words to be helpful:

“This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary's mouth."

The peace of God is not meek and mild. It is the active presence of Justice that creates an active peace. The absence of conflict is not the presence of God's peace. Please don't confuse your warm fuzzy feelings snuggled by a Christmas tree for the peace of God. The peace we have is that in our powerlessness God is mighty and able to do justice. The fear we have is that if we are among the privileged of society, we may find ourselves humbled by not using what little power we possess to make justice a reality. May God’s peace be with you, and don’t settle for counterfeit cultural peace.

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Lord Almighty,

Humble us this season. Humble us enough to pursue your peace actively. Thank you for Mary's powerful words. May we also praise you in our meekness and lowness, knowing and trusting that the posture we are to take always is that of reverence to you and love and service to humankind.